Although her work as a novelist has always been strongly linked to Baltimore, Laura Lippman was born in Atlanta. Her family moved north when she was two--first to Washington D.C., then to Baltimore, where her father took a job at the Baltimore Sun. Lippman attended Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, then worked at Texas newspapers for eight years before convincing her hometown newspaper to take a chance on her. She worked for the Sun for 12 years--"11 of the happiest years" of her life. She wrote the first seven books of her Tess Monaghan series while working full-time, then left the Sun to focus on her fiction writing. She has published 18 books--10 novels and a novella about Tess, a book of short stories and six stand-alone crime novels, including The Most Dangerous Thing (Morrow, August 23, 2011). She lives in Baltimore and New Orleans with her husband, David Simon, and their family.
On your nightstand now:
Emily Alone by Stewart O'Nan; The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer; an advance copy of William Kent Krueger's Northwest Angle; and Lenora Mattingly Weber's I Met a Boy I Used to Know. Weber was one of my favorite childhood writers, and almost every book I write has a tiny detail meant to be an homage to her. (See "Mrs. Payne" in The Most Dangerous Thing, my fellow Weber-ites.)
Favorite book when you were a child:
Just one? I liked Squirrel Nutkin by Beatrix Potter. Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary, The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg and, oh, about 8,000 others. My mother was a children's librarian.
Your top five authors:
How about if I go with my top five Baltimore writers? John Waters, Anne Tyler, James M. Cain, Theo Lippman Jr. and David Simon. Theo Lippman is my dad, a Baltimore Sun editorial writer and political biographer. He also edited a book on H.L. Mencken, another pretty good Baltimore writer.
Book you've faked reading:
Let's just say I've never faked reading a book to enhance my reputation as an intellectual--I'm not the least bit embarrassed by the number of times I've failed to make it past page 3 in Ulysses--but I may have pretended to finish a book to be polite.
Book you bought for the cover:
Dwarf Rapes Nun; Flees in UFO by Arnold Sawislak. However, Donald Westlake did better by tabloid journalism in Trust Me on This and Baby, Would I Lie?
Book you're an evangelist for:
Emma Who Saved My Life by Wilton Barnhardt. Made me LOL before there was LOL'ing. Also has a beautiful, beautiful ending. I once painted the last line on a refrigerator I kept in my garden. (I used to be kind of twee that way.)
Book that changed your life:
All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers by Larry McMurtry. I began reading it on a Greyhound bus from Waco to San Antonio, and I was captivated from the very first line. I thought: Some day, I want to bring someone else as much joy as I'm feeling now, the anticipation of a really good read.
Favorite line from a book:
If it's one I have to know by heart, then "Let's get stinko" from Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain. If I'm allowed to cheat and look it up, then these lines from W.H. Auden's "In Memory of W.B. Yeats": "For poetry makes nothing happen; it survives; In the valley of its making where executives/ Would never want to tamper, flows on south/ From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,/ Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,/ A way of happening, a mouth." I also can quote some of my father's best columns, but "Rita is better" won't make any sense out of context. First you have to remember who Rita Jenrette was, then you have to know she did a Playboy spread and posed at a writing desk wearing nothing but a boa... well, you just had to be there.
My dad also wrote a really beautiful column about his father's death. I violate the Sun's copyright every year and run it on my blog. (Hey, the owner is in bankruptcy; I'm probably not going to get a pension from those guys.) The thing you need to know about my dad--his column, for space reasons, was incredibly brief, 500-550 words. It was amazing what he did with that amount of space. I keep trying to get him to blog, but he hates the idea of writing for free. He once hounded the Sun for months for a freelance fee owed after he retired. Finally, he called the editor and said: "I am resigned to the fact that you're never going to pay me. But I'm writing my memoir and I've just gotten to the point where this happens, so could you explain why you never paid me?" They cut him a check the next day.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Love Story by Ruth McKenney, best known for the My Sister Eileen stories. Because the first time I read this beautiful memoir about her relationship with her husband, I had no idea how badly it ended. The last lines are: "...if Mike and I have a life rich and varied, we must endure with what grace we can the pain we have suffered between our goodly joys. We are too passionate, too blundering, to inhabit any safe and comfortable plateaus." It's such a lovely portrait of a marriage that it's devastating to learn that McKenney's husband committed suicide five years after the book was published--on McKenney's birthday. She reportedly never wrote again. I like to fantasize that one day I will write her biography and do for McKenney's work what Tim Page did for Dawn Powell's.
What color underwear you have on (I am hoping this was exclusive to Colin Cotterill and wouldn't apply to me):
You know, as a writer, I've always left some gaps for readers to fill in.